Ernest Scared Stupid is supposedly a family-oriented comedy. The film, released in 1991, is only one in a series. Each movie features comedian Jim Varney as the eponymous Ernest P. Worrell, a lovable, heroic doofus who gets himself into trouble and has to stumble his way out.
In Ernest Scared Stupid, Ernest inadvertently releases an evil creature named Trantor upon the small town of Briarville, MO, on Halloween. He must figure out how to stop it from snatching children and raising more of its kind.
While the film should have been a goofy, laughable flick appropriate for all ages, it's actually a nightmare oozing with existential dread - as well as actual ooze. A look back on the frightening film reveals why so many children were left traumatized. Here are some of the scenes, moral messages, and production choices that make Ernest Scared Stupid so much scarier than it had any right to be.
One of the most disturbing powers Trantor possesses is the ability to change his voice. Right after Trantor is released and the children flee the forest, Joey (Alec Klapper) falls into a mud pit and begins to panic. He hears Ernest's voice telling him to grab his hand, but once he does, he sees that Ernest's voice is coming out of Trantor's mouth.
Later, Kenny (Austin Nagler) hears his best friend Elizabeth (Shay Astar) calling to him from a storm drain. When he investigates, he's ambushed by Trantor. As Trantor chases him through the streets, the creature taunts him by calling after him in Elizabeth's voice.
After Trantor has already snatched a number of children, plucky grade-schooler Elizabeth asks her mother to look under the bed to check for trolls. Her mother says she's being ridiculous and leaves, so Elizabeth takes it upon herself to lean over and see what's under her bed.
All she finds is her beloved teddy bear, which she hugs for comfort. As she lays back down in her bed, she suddenly finds Trantor laying next to her, laughing. This means the hideous beast managed to enter her house, sneak into her room silently, and pounce on her, all while her family was home.
The film's primary villain, Trantor, isn't just horrifying to look at - the way in which he derives his magical powers and sustains his general existence is soul-shatteringly awful. The grotesque beast feeds off the life force of children by transforming them into wooden statues and collecting them in the ancient tree where he lives.
The children don't perish but are instead trapped in the form of wooden toys forever. The neighborhood witch, "Old Lady" Hackmore, reinforces this horror when she tells Ernest, "Them that [perish] will be the lucky ones."
From the film's opening scene, in which Trantor chases a screaming child through a field, to the horrific gargoyle-like visages of the various trolls Trantor summons later in the movie, the filmmakers created some truly disgusting monsters to terrorize the movie's young actors.
The production even turned to special make-up effects maestro Bart Mixon to help design the stomach-churning trolls. Mixon is best known for designing the appearance of Tim Curry's Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the original It miniseries. He also worked on the creepy creatures in Gremlins 2: The New Batch and multiple installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, along with many other iconic, horrifying projects.
The molds and models for the trolls were also fabricated by the famous Chiodo Brothers, who worked with Mixon on Klowns, created special effects for the Critters franchise, and also worked on The Lost Boys.